“A patriot sets himself apart in his own country under his own flag, sneers at other nations and keeps an army of uniformed assassins on hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other people’s countries and keep them from grabbing slices of his. In the intervals between campaigns he washes the blood off his hands and works for ‘the universal brotherhood of man’ - with his mouth.” Mark Twain
Friday, September 5
Is there anything more decisive in the moment of birth - more than the accumulated genetics from your family, more than physical or mental defect - than the physical location? Hair color, height, perhaps even a predisposition to alcohol and other drug abuse. These all come from our parents. But the physical location of those parents is a much greater influence. It determines whether a girl will grow up under black robes in the desert sun, whether a boy will grow up in a drought ridden sub-Saharan country. It decides whether a girl will grow up in the San Francisco bay area, surrounded by liberal ideologies and a vegan diet from her parents, whether a boy will grow up in Montana with a more conservative ideology, a good eye for hunting, and a serious belief in Jesus as his personal savior. These children are not forced into those stereotypes of course, but the social atmosphere of their upbringing heavily influences their learning opportunities and patterns. Through no choice of our own, fate decides whether we are born to democracy or dictatorship, to wealth or woe.
Last night's speech by John McCain, unofficially known as the "Palin for President" speech inside the circles known as my brain, was an unfortunate reflection of how tenuous that truth is. John McCain, all while talking about himself and Governor Palin, claimed that only one thing mattered: that ever fickle fate that put us where we are. It superseded all other concerns; it binds more than any other factor. Race, sex (but not sexual preference!), and political opinion all fall to the wayside under the stars and stripes. One wonders, if he had been born to Panamanian parents rather than Americans stationed there, would he - with his instinctive love for our country - now be an illegal immigrant? Of course that is a ridiculous question; regardless of his upbringing, his "God Given Character" would have had him legally come to the states, or perhaps his loyalty would have been to the country of Panama, which no doubt would be a world power by now if he had been born to serve it.
As an American, born in a military hospital and veteran of the first gulf war, I am not advocating an anarchist's state. Being born here, having traveled abroad and seen other countries, I understand the privileges fate (or a big Charlton Heston looking guy in robes) has bequeathed me. I understand the necessity to use that gift, to protect it, to nurture it in those around me. I understand that our imperfect union is founded on traditions of greatness.
I also understand that the merit of a society is not the quality of its government form, but the quality of its constituents. That a flag or a physical boundary should not encourage pride, but the education of the masses that reside under and within those artifices may encourage a desire to serve. Some say a country’s purpose, at its lowest form, is nothing more than Hobbes’ Leviathan, a suspicious agreement meant to protect us from each other and those other groups that have reached similar agreements (the core of our Cold War). A slightly more dignified, but ultimately selfish way to promote this is as a collaboration that provides protective measures and pools resources: things like a common military and roads. The ultimate incarnation is that of a group of people, brought together both by happenstance of birth (natural citizens) or desire (immigrants) who join hands and hearts to educate one another, to do as many what cannot be done individually. It is to create a utopia that battles disease and promotes growth. It is a “heaven on earth”, a society of peaceful coexistence.
The keys to this kingdom are those of wisdom. The wisdom of Jesus, of the Buddha, of Lao-Tzu all echo the wisdoms of rejection of nationalism. It is the wisdom that our most downtrodden neighbor is ourselves. It is the wisdom that we judge the worth of a society by its weakest links. It is the wisdom that those outside of our agreements are so because of happenstance, not because of any intrinsic value or lack thereof. The wisdom that the agreement is simply an agreement, and by its very nature does not outweigh the importance of a single human being. The day the agreement is greater than those who have entered into it is the day it has become a fascist state.
Ideologies do not outweigh the people that operate within them. It is a matter of physical location that we operate within the government that we do. A few miles of latitude or longitude, a scant boat ride to Cuba. If our parents had come from an area just a little north or south, our entire life is changed. The United States of America is indeed a wonderful country of diversity and great history. I am proud of those that have gone before me. But to blindly claim “patriotism” as a virtue into and of itself is something only the worst of history have claimed.